A Tisket a Tasket by Ella Fitzgerald on Throwback Thursday

Our final installment of the Throwback Thursday series for Women’s History Month celebrates this children’s classic as sung by the legendary Ella Fitzgerald.

photo by Carl Van Vechten
photo by Carl Van Vechten

“First Lady of Song” Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25th, 1917 in Virginia. She soon moved with her mother to New York, and spent a troubled childhood there. Her mother died when she was only fifteen and her stepfather soon after. She spent some time with relatives and in orphanages but eventually ran away and lived on the streets of New York. In 1934, at seventeen years old and homeless, she entered an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Ella had always wanted to be a dancer, but as she waited in line to perform, she saw a dance duo go up before her and was so impressed with their act she decided to try her hand at singing instead. The audience was swept away with the power of her voice and her nearly 60 year career as a singer began.

Ella later said of that night: “Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from my audience, I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life.”  Ella began winning every contest she entered, until in January of 1935 Chick Webb hired her to sing and travel with his band for $12.50 a week. She released her first record in 1936, but it was her version of the traditional folk tune A Tisket a Tasket, which she co-wrote in 1938 that was her first break out hit. When Webb died in 1939, Ella took over the band herself before embarking on a solo career. Ella was the first African American Woman to win a Grammy in 1958 and went on to win 14 more over her long and celebrated career. Famously shy and retiring offstage, she came to life on stage, and performed until 1993. She died from complications of diabetes at her home in Los Angeles in 1996. She left behind a son, grand daugher, and over 200 ablums and 2000 songs.

A joyful, jazzy blend of old and new, A Tisket a Tasket is a wonderful showcase for Ella’s pure, powerful sound. It was first noted in the United States in 1879 and was (and is) a popular child’s circle game. Ella made it an American Jazz Standard.

A-tisket, a-tasket
A brown and yellow basket
I sent a letter to my mommy
On the way, I dropped it

I dropped it, I dropped it
Yes, on the way I dropped it
A little girlie picked it up
And put it in her pocket

She was truckin’ on down the avenue
But not a single thing to do
She went peck, peck, pecking all around
When she spied it on the ground

She took it, she took it
My little yellow basket
And if she doesn’t bring it back
I think that I will die

A-tisket, a-tasket
I lost my yellow basket
And if that girlie don’t return it
Don’t know what I’ll do

Oh dear, I wonder where my basket can be
(So do we, so do we, so do we, so do we, so do we)
Oh gee, I wish that little girl, I could see
(So do we, so do we, so do we, so do we, so do we)

Oh, why was I so careless with that basket of mine?
That itty bitty basket was a joy of mine

A-tisket, a-tasket
I lost my yellow basket
Won’t someone help me find my basket
And make me happy again, again?

(Was it green?)
No, no, no, no
(Was it red?)
No, no, no, no
(Was it blue?)
No, no, no, no
Just a little yellow basket
A little yellow basket

SONGWRITERS
ALEXANDER, VAN / FITZGERALD, ELLA

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 comments

  1. Thank you, Alina for a great post about an extraordinary person and talent – whose work still shines. Her background – homeless on the streets of NYC, winning a talent show at the Apollo – is breathtaking, and an inspiration.

    1. Thank you Brigid! I was surprised to learn about her beginnings as well. I have always admired Ella, and now I have even more reason to.

  2. My all time number one fave singer, and I just love this song of hers. I often hear her singing it in my head, for years! Thanks for writing.

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